The evolution of baju kurung throughout the years – six decades of style

31 Aug 2022 09:40am
Baju Kurung Songket -
Baju Kurung Songket -

The pride of a Malay women is located in their appearance even before Merdeka, and it is believed that the baju kurung shapes the character of the wearer.

The development of baju kurung in Peninsula Malaysia was encapsulated through the decades from 1950 to the 2000s.

It had experienced various changes in terms of the length, cut, shape, fabrics, style and coordination.

The changes then drew the line of classic and modern baju kurung.

Until today, baju kurung continues to gain popularity as a Malay garment that survives in modern fashion due to efforts made by traditionalists, the government and fashion designers to keep its existence in the mass market.

A home-based tailor with 36 years of experience, Norah Dollah, was approached by Sinar Daily to share her expertise and knowledge on baju kurung.

Norah expressed her amazement at how the baju kurung is still going strong despite the splits of contemporary garnishing.

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“Despite the baju kurung's modernisation process, women are still seen wearing both the traditional and modern designs even as appropriate professional attire, which continues to astound me,” she said.

The 60-year-old tailor originally began taking sewing lessons in 1985 at a local academy in Jalan Raja Bot, Kuala Lumpur, for a fee of just RM50.

Norah said there challenges she faced while learning as she had no prior sewing experience but she pulled through by providing free-tailoring services for acquaintances in order to hone the skills.

"After providing free tailoring for my friends for a year, I eventually felt secured in my abilities and courageously began accepting commissions as a home-based tailor,” she said.

A home-based tailor with 36 years of experience, Norah Dollah.
A home-based tailor with 36 years of experience, Norah Dollah.

The evolution of baju kurung throughout the decades

1950 – 1957 (Pre-Independence)

Prior to independence, the classic baju kurung, which came in two varieties; Baju Kurung Teluk Belanga and Baju Kurung Cekak Musang, was the most popular style.

The lengths of these two styles varied depending on the wearer's preferences as well as the states. Most of the time, the length gradually increased to just below the knee and remained there.

1958 – 1979 (Early Independence)

From 1960 onwards, there were changes in the cuts and shapes, which led to the name of the garment changing to mini kurung and modern baju kurung.

The most significant and enduring period occurred when Saloma, a legendary Biduanita Negara (National Songbird) became a trendsetter by creating the new Malay garment called baju saloma, or the Saloma Style.

Baju saloma was the most fashionable wear during this phase with many people requesting it, even providing the outfits sample for their tailors to follow.

This design continues to gain attention even until today.

Some of the collections of Baju Saloma (Saloma Style) at Saloma Exhibition. - Photo: Bernama
Some of the collections of Baju Saloma (Saloma Style) at Saloma Exhibition. - Photo: Bernama

1980 – 1999 (Modern Malaysia)

The focus during this period was on reviving the batik industries.

Baju kurung was frequently made use of batik fabrics.

In order to promote batik for mass production, printed fabrics that look like batik were also widely used, while Songket was essentially brought into the mainstream market in the 1970s.

Baju Kurung shrunk dramatically in length, earning the name "Mini Kurung."

This particular garment was cut and made using western pattern and shaped slightly close to fit the body.

2000 – present (Millennium Years)

Wide exposure on films and media introduced the public to screen icons and freedom of society.

Due to these changes, women began to simplify the Malay dress to suit their new surroundings and lifestyle.

The manipulation of baju kurung became more obvious in 2005 when designers reinvented the image of baju kurung with a “glamorous” look.

“The necklines, ends of sleeves, and hems were lavishly embellished with sequins and beads, often outdoing the entire garment.” Norah shared more.

The new trends now incorporated many types of sleeves, including bishop sleeves, flared sleeves with cuffs, and gathered sleeves.

Baju kurung's top occasionally changed from being calf-length to upper hip length, known as a “kurung peplum,” which fits the young or young-at-heart people.

Baju Kurung had gone through a slow process of changes over the years but changed dramatically from the beginning of 1990 to 2010.

The women’s baju kurung has changed and is simplified for easy wear. Indirectly encouraging women to go to work and move around while wearing the baju kurung.

Norah, a veteran who upholds traditional clothing, hopes in conjunction with Merdeka, the baju kurung will continue to serve as an inspiration for contemporary Malay clothing in the future.

“I hope the current generation would protect, honour and be proud of the Malaysian traditional clothing, it’s a heritage and not just a baju.

“Baju kurung is not limited to Malays alone but for everyone who is Malaysian,” she said.

The development of tops and skirts let women save time getting dressed and marked the traditional clothing as modest, graceful, and elegant.

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